25 February 2008

"Good Luck"

Chess players must respect the sport and their opponents, so the game begins with a handshake or other culturally sanctioned greeting. Commonly players say, "play well" or "good luck". I teach children to say good luck because they can mean it with no harm to themselves. Chess is a game of skill with nothing hidden. Outside of such chance elements in the selection of opponents and color assignment in Swiss tournaments, or of color assignment in single round-robin events, the game rests wholly upon the skills of the players.

The lack of chance contributes in large measure to the appeal of chess. One cannot blame the cards, the dice, or the referees.


Historic Luck

Consider a historic game between William Davies Evans and Alexander MacDonnell in London in 1826. The game opened with a variation on Captain Evans' signature opening.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0–0 d6 5.b4 Bxb4 6.c3 Ba5 7.d4 Bg4 8.Qb3 Qd7 9.Ng5 Nd8 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.Ba3 Nh6 12.f3 Bb6+ 13.Kh1 Bh5 14.Rd1 Qc8

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From this position, White has a clear win: 15.Qb5+ Nc6 16.Bd5 Qd7 17.Bxc6 bxc6 18.Qxe5+ Kd8 19.Rxd7+ and black might as well resign, as Fritz did when I played it from the diagram position.

Captain Evans did not play 15.Qb5+. Rather, he won the game in more dramatic fashion.

15.Rxd8+ Qxd8

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Here we have the position as I encountered it in my tactics training last week. It is one of the problems available in the database I call Kaber's Exercises because I created it from files available at Claude Kaber's Chess Stuff page. The exercises are an excellent training regimen for use within ChessBase, if only I would use them regularly. Many of Kaber's exercises have entertaining questions, such as "play like Captain Evans" in the present case.

I found the correct move, which was the one Evans played.


MacDonnell answered with 16...Qh4, threatening checkmate. Kaber put this position in as a training position with the tease, "play better than Captain Evans." Evans finished off MacDonnell with 17.Qb5+ c6 18.Qxe5+ Kd7 19.Qe6+ Kc7 20.Bd6#. Kaber offers the quicker checkmate 17.Bb5+ c6 18.Qe6+ Qe7 19.Qxe7#.

Kaber also offers as a variation, 16...Qf6 17.Nxh8+/=. Kaber's analysis is wrong. After 17...O-O-O! black has a substantial advantage. The knight on h8 is trapped and its capture will produce material equality. White's king is more vulnerable than Black's, and his queenside knight blocks in the rook, while several moves are needed to free the horse.

Evans' dramatic victory offers tactical fireworks that prevailed due to inadequate defense. Evans benefited from luck: MacDonnell did not play to his full capabilities.

Recent Luck

In the final round of our Club championship last week, I was playing on the top board attempting to upset the likely winner. My miserable play resulted in this position with Black on move:

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I'm clearly losing, so in desperation I played 29...Rb8. This clever decoy is an illusion. I get some checks, but they are not enough.

Play continued 30.Qxb8 Qe4+ 31.Kg1 Nf3+ 32.Kf2 Nd4 33.Rxd4 cxd4

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34.Rxd4+- would end my little fantasy, but my opponent played 34.Bxd4 instead. The game went on 34...Qc2+ 35.Ke1 Qe4+

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My opponent didn't like the looks of 36.Kf1 Qf3+ 37.Bf2 Qxd1+ 38.Kg2, or he didn't see all of the sequence. But with two pawns to the good, White should win this. Instead, my opponent played 36.Kd2?

The game concluded with a forced repetition 36...Qxd4+ 37.Kc1 Qxc4+ 38.Kb1 Qe4+ 39.Kc1 Qc4+ 40.Kd2 Qd4+ 41.Ke2 Qe4+ ½-½

With this draw, my opponent still managed to secure the Club championship, but his taste of victory is bittersweet and he gave up a few rating points. My tactical bluff worked because my opponent did not play to his ability.

A Puzzle

Saturday morning in the first round of the annual Dave Collyer Memorial tournament, I faced an unrated player. He was unfamiliar with the Réti opening, played some odd moves, and the resulting melee went badly for me. I eventually won the game and went on to have an excellent tournament, but I was lucky that my opponent overlooked something when he played 19...Bc5? from this position.

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What did he miss?

24 February 2008

Queen's Value

Imbalances are the heart of chess strategy, but how many pieces are equal to an active queen? I came to the position below replaying a game from the playchess server against Hiarcs 10. Black to move.

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Here I played 24. ... Qg4+ and Hiarcs evaluated Kf2 as at least a half a pawn better than moving to the h-file. So, 25.Kf2 Nh3+ 26.Qxh3 Qxh3 27.Rxe8+ Kh7.

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For White's queen, Black has given up a rook and knight. Earlier in the game, Black had given up a bishop for three pawns, then White sacrificed a pawn.

According to the most widely used version of point count chess, White has three minor pieces (9), rook (5), and three pawns (3) for 17. Black has a queen (9), knight (3), and seven pawns (7) for 19. But, arithmetic tells us little. How can a queen play against so many pieces? How many of Black's pawns will fall in the process?

15 February 2008

Kings and Pawns

In a Club Championship game this evening I had White in the following position. I played 31.Rxf7+

Did I err?

What alternative plan should White consider?

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12 February 2008